Friday, July 5, 2013

How to Flatten Organizational Structures

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You may well be a part of a church, business, educational system or governmental department and find yourself frustrated with hierarchy. Annoyed with the slow decision making. Disenfranchised by the lack of forward movement. Slightly irritated by the perception of corrupt power held by those 'above' you. Whatever the case may be for these feelings, I want to offer some insights into how to flatten the structure of hierarchies.

Let me first speak on the question of whether we should in fact flatten a hierarchy. Many organisations over the years have served well in a bureaucratic system, like the military, who understand well their chain of command. The difficultly for many top-down heavy organisations is they have not functioned well. That's not to say they cannot necessarily function well, but lots have not. As organisations have added layer after layer, their ingenuity has gone out the window, so to their willingness to engage with new ideas. Techonological companies have had to grapple with this, with the venture-capital funded start-ups in Silicon Valley that can hit the bottom line of a large corporation quite quickly. Within weeks Internet start-ups can be implementing new initiatives, while large corporations are still discussing items at the fortnightly board meeting.

In a rapidly changing organisational environment, it is imperative that organisations wrestle with the flattening of their structures and reinventing of their processes. I have mentioned more about dealing with bureaucracy here.

So how do organisations flatten their structures?

How to Flatten Organizational Structure No. 1 - Identify parts within the process that can be removed. An example may be, having to ask permission at two different levels to proceed with a particular venture. Why not simply have an effective group to make the decision in the first place? In retail we see the example of large grocery and department stores, like Costco, that rid themselves of middle management. They purchase items directly from the producer and sell them off much cheaper then if thay had excessive hierarchy to wade their way through.
How to Flatten Organizational Structure No. 2 - Identify systemic issues that need reengineering. Maybe you could combine two departments into one.
How to Flatten Organizational Structure No. 3 - Develop trust within the organisation. I am convinced, and no one is hearing me on this yet, that so many processes and procedures exist because we do not inherently trust people to do the right thing! Now, if we don't trust people, especially if they are leaders, then move them on, otherwise empower them by allowing them to make decisions!
How to Flatten Organizational Structure No. 4 - Push leadership decision making out, not in. The natural tendency for those in leadership is to hold control of leadership decision making. I challenge leaders to push the power out. Give people freedom. Allow up and coming leaders to make decisions and even occassionally fall and to get back up again and try again.
How to Flatten Organizational Structure No. 5 - If you in positional leadership then make the tough decisions to quicken up decision making processes. Especially in faith-based organisations, make the tough decision to put some people back to the grass roots, where they are having a direct impact on transforming lives. Sure, you need to have the checks and balances in place, but weigh that up with the speed of decision making. Checking the integrity of the decision need not equal slowness.

This is not about potentially lacking good governance. This is about having organisations equipped and empowered to be more effective in fulfilling their goals and objectives. Flattening organizational structures helps with that.

Other posts that may interest you: Top 10 Leadership Tips for Creating Healthy Organizational Culture.
Also: Top 10 Leadership Tips.


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